A 1-4-1 usually leads to changes throughout a team. Coach John MacLean made maybe the most severe changes Monday, reshuffling the lineup and moving players. With the new lines comes the same question – can the Devils finally finish their opportunities and produce?
Through their first six games, the Devils offense has been futile. They’ve only scored ten goals, which has them in a three way tie near the bottom of the league. The team’s goal differential is -11, good for last in the league. That futility made changes necessary. While MacLean doesn’t expect an explosion of offense, he does want to see more energy from the lines.
“I think we get a little a little zip on each line, a little energy on each line and that’s what I’m looking for, get some goals out of that with a little tweak here,” he said.
Team captain Jamie Langenbrunner believes the line change will help get the Devils back to basics.
“We have to simplify it and just get back to work,” the captain said. “I think we’re trying to make something happen when it isn’t there and that goes for a lot of us. We’re trying to find a way to score every shift and that’s not the way you play hockey. You play the game and then the opportunities will come. I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort. It’s a lack of playing in the right areas and doing the little things and that’s what we’ve been missing”
So can the new line changes really “simplify it” and find the back of the net? Here are the revised lines, with our analysis of what each brings to the table.
Line 1: Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Dainius Zubrus
Well, the “ZIP Line” experiment lasted all of six games. With Zach Parise underperforming so far this season, MacLean reunited a line that experienced success last season. While Dainius Zubrus doesn’t command the offensive skill of Ilya Kovalchuk, he brings a big body that can crash the net. That should give someone like Parise more space to work with in the open zone. It’ll also open up opportunities for Travis Zajac. With Kovalchuk, the line seemed too hesitant and tried to make two or three unnecessary passes while in the zone. The addition of Zubrus on the right wing should eliminate those extra passes and refocus both Parise and Zajac.
Line 2: Rod Pelley – Jason Arnott – Jamie Langenbrunner*
So far this season, Rod Pelley has been the most consistent Devil. He’s brought energy and intensity, and by moving him up, MacLean is showing the trust he has in Pelley. Langenbrunner admitted that Pelley will bring energy back to their second line.
“He’s played well,” Langenbrunner said. “I suppose they think that he can bring his energy and the way he has been playing to us because Arnie and I have not played well the last few games and we know that and today’s practice watching the way (Pelley is) just out there working hard is something we all need to do. I think they tried to do that by the way they put somebody on every line. They’re trying get that attitude back.”
Pelley won’t bring much offense to the table, but he will hopefully serve the same role as Zubrus – a body who gets to the net and creates chaos. Even if Pelley plays great, Jason Arnott and Langenbrunner need to step up their play. This line could be very underrated, but the two veterans need to play a bigger role. Both players +/- numbers are negative, and they need to play focused and productive hockey.
For more analysis on the new lines, click read more.
Line 3: Patrik Elias – Jacob Josefson – Ilya Kovalchuk*
This line presents an interesting challenge for MacLean. He’s put two great scorers between an unproven rookie center, and he’s also kept Kovalchuk playing right wing. Last year, Patrik Elias and Kovalchuk were able to find some success playing together. Jacob Josefson has shown promise, and he’s played well with less offensively-skilled teammates. Centering these two scorers will be both nerve-racking and fun, and I’d expect to see Josefson flourish in this role.
* Either Lines 2 or 3 could be considered the second lines for this team. Technically, Kovalchuk and Elias were dropped to the third line, but they have just as much skill as the second. There’s no clear definition between the two groups.
Line 4: Adam Mair – Tim Sestito – David Clarkson
I can’t really say I’m surprised about the demotion to David Clarkson. He’s a -6 through six games, and he has yet to find the net. He’s had his opportunities (19 shots on goal), but it hasn’t materialized for him. Maybe he’s been pressing in the early going, which could explain the so-so play. But with the team struggling, there isn’t the ability to give Clarkson time to find his game. The fourth line still gets good minutes, so it’s not like Clarkson won’t play. I’d expect this line to be the team’s “Crash Line” and help set the tone during the games.
The Devils made several upgrades to the offense this offseason, and so far those moves haven’t panned out. It’s necessitated these line changes, which may not be a bad thing. It’s clearly an experiment, and it may not work out. But the team needed something to shake it up, and these line changes are meant to do just that. We’ll see if they stay the same for tomorrow’s game, but MacLean has shown one thing: the offense will come from somewhere, no matter what changes he has to make.
Dainius Zubrus Photo Credit: AP Photo
Patrick Elias Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images